The World is Hers

WORDS BY ALMA RÚN VIGNISDÓTTIR

PHOTOS BY GUNNAR GUÐMUNDSSON & ALMA RÚN VIGNISDÓTTIR 

ICELAND


Part of me yearns to tell you a story about how hunting has been an entirely natural evolution for me. How I come from generations of hunters, where I was taught as a toddler how to differentiate highland goose droppings from a greylag’s. 

My story is not of that kind. The ironic part is that I had a perfect opportunity to seek this knowledge from my parents — especially from my dad, who is an avid fly fisherman, exceptionally knowledgeable about birds, and a great outdoorsman. As a child, I partook in various outdoor activities with my family, and we were accustomed to eating fresh fish from the river and seasonal vegetables. Wild game was always a favorite of mine, but due to how hard it was for non-hunters to obtain, it was only served on rare occasions. Wild goose was my all-time favorite, and sometimes my parents received a few as a gift from one of their hunter friends. I remember thinking how extremely lucky his kids were to be able to feast on those more than a few times a year. Still, the thought of being able to provide wild meat for myself never occurred to me, and not having a female role model in hunting or fishing probably played a huge part in that thought process. Even though nature and the outdoors had an influential role in my childhood, somehow my path led in another direction. 

By the time I met my husband, Gunnar, I was in my early 20s and completely disconnected from nature. I had burned the previous five years living in a small studio apartment in the city, binge-watching TV series and spending time doing other unproductive activities — a condition many young people can relate to. The rest of my waking hours I spent working at a hospital or studying to finish my nursing education. I am proud of the hard work I did to finish my degree, and according to modern society’s standards, I was doing everything right. Looking back, though, I can wholeheartedly admit it was a lifestyle I’m glad I escaped from.

I realized early that a love of wildlife, hunting and the outdoors were defining parts of Gunnar. I heard how beautifully he spoke about his hunting heritage, and I saw how this connected his whole family. I took notice of the invaluable knowledge that had passed down through the generations, and how every family member, young and old, was responsible for an important role. Everyone came together after a successful hunt, and I could sense the mutual understanding and respect that came from it. Gunnar’s philosophy, living a different kind of life, fascinated me, and I was instantly curious. He and the hunters of his family, his grandfather and uncle, warmly welcomed me into their tribe, and I was given the opportunity to follow them at my own speed and on my terms. I joined them on hunts as an observer and was quick to learn how to care for the meat. Hunting was much more beautiful and complex than I had ever imagined, and I fell in love with the whole process. I saw a spark in the hunters’ eyes, and a quality that I myself wanted to possess. Thirst grew for my own experiences and adventures — a desire to put to practice the things I had learned and figure the rest out on my own. 

Soon, I dove in headfirst, but the first year was a struggle. As I hunted alongside Gunnar, I became acutely aware of our physical differences and the disadvantages that they posed alongside my inexperience. My small body frame, slow speed, and poor resistance against cold weather made me feel weak and inferior compared to his “born hunter” genes. Time passed, and just when I felt I was finally catching up and getting the hang of it, I became pregnant with our daughter, and all those thoughts and feelings escalated.

Every trip, I felt it more and more. When I was six months pregnant, searching for highland geese in waders five sizes too big, I could feel my weight in every step and the shortness of my breath. I needed to take my time figuring out how to pee in the extremely hilly area. Next came the weeks after recovering from birth; trying to drag a 60-kg seal across the sand, and feeling as though my body was failing me. Then the many months of breastfeeding our daughter, how I needed to take extra care to not let the cold break into my core. Then accidentally falling into freezing cold water while fishing, an incident ending with extremely painful mastitis.

But from my struggles and suffering, I came to realize that some of my most feminine features are the reasons I’m a good hunter. My small body moves quietly and elegantly: perfect for stalking. My flexibility allows me to get into comfortable shooting positions at any given moment. My consciousness makes me think before I act, preventing recklessness and getting myself or others into dangerous situations. My empathy and compassion drive me to perfect my skills so that I do not cause unnecessary pain to an animal.

Hunting has shaped my soul, and it always has a way of teaching me something; every hunt brings a new lesson when I need it the most. 

Hunting has made me both patient and able to act on instinct. It has given me humilty and confidence. I’ve learned how to stay calm in situations when my emotions wanted to take over. Through the process, I have gotten to know my strengths and weaknesses, learning how to change some of them and accept the rest. 

I sometimes think about that girl living in the studio apartment who was anxious about trivial things in life. She procrastinated and pulled the sheets over her head instead of facing her problems. It saddens me to think that this kind of avoidant behavior is becoming a norm rather than the exception. In modern society, we are so used to being comfortable. We act as though being hungry for a while is dangerous, or desperately try to avoid feeling physical or mental pain. The fact is, true happiness never comes without sadness or suffering. You must experience both sides to truly enjoy the good things in life. 

I am no longer a prisoner of comfort. I’m tougher and more patient because I have laid in a ditch for hours and hours waiting for a flock of geese that never arrived, my limbs frozen and numb, my nose running and stomach growling, my whole body shivering. And yes, the entire time I kept asking myself why I was willingly going through all this discomfort. Yet, I went out the next day, and the next. And again. I will always go back. 

I’ve learned not to give up. Walking in the highlands and being suddenly swallowed by a snowstorm and darkness — you have no other option but to keep going. Mother Nature gives no second chances, and the tangible moments of hardship she has thrown at me have made me stronger each time. I have transferred these lessons to the challenges I face in everyday life, feeling unstoppable because I know I will not break. I am a provider, strong and resourceful. Hunting has brought like-minded women into my life — incredible heroines and amazing role models. They have empowered me with their confidence, skills and bravery. I want my daughter to know them, and I will tell her the stories of the women featured in a narrative-changing publication like this one. 

I will show her that there are no limitations. The world is hers. 

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